The Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) for 2019 has included the flag of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), the state ‘proclaimed’ by the Polisario Front.
On the tournament’s ticketing website the organizing committee for CAN 2019 had included the flag, allowing it to be claimed by fans as a “Fan ID”. The SADR is based in Tindouf and is a self-proclaimed republic headed by the Polisario front.
Support for the SADR is a red flag for Morocco. Rabat sees this as contradictory to both its geographical and political interests in the region, and the national sovereignty of Morocco so this latest move has fuelled fears that there may be a further decline in relations between Rabat and Cairo.
What is most surprising about the appearance of the flag is that SADR does not have a qualified team entered into the tournament. In fact, the self-proclaimed republic is neither a member of the CAF (Confederation of African Football or FIF (International Football Federation).
This latest action by the Egyptian organizing committee follows lacklustre attempts by both Egypt and Morocco to try to restore the the poor diplomatic relationship that currently exists between their two nations.
Moroccan Royal Football Federation has protested at the inclusion of the flag and sent a letter to the CAN 2019 committee seeking an explanation for what they deem a provocative move.
The Egyptian Football Association have denied responsibility for the presence of the flag, pointing instead to the foreign organisation that is managing CAN’s ticketing website. Despite this, Morocco remains unconvinced and has contacted the executive board of the CAF to lodge a formal complaint.
The current situation comes after other differences in agreement between the two countries.
In April, a delegation from the Polisario Front attended a conference of the African Union (AU) held in Egypt. This raised some eyebrows in Morocco and undermined the already cooling diplomatic relationship between Rabat and Cairo.
Egypt’s ambassador to Morocco, Achrafaf Ibrahim, maintains that Egypt remains a strong ally to the country and had no intention of challenging Morocco’s interests. He stated that the presence of the Polisario was not related to Egypt, but was a requirement of the AU. He confirmed that Egypt does not, and has no intention of recognizing Polisario, and that the country’s position on the situation in Western Sahara has not changed.
However, this latest inclusion of SADR on the CAN 2019 ticketing website does suggest some recognition of the Polisario Front’s claim of being a state. We now await Morocco’s response to Egypt’s statement on the matter.